People in Trouble by Sarah Schulman

You should read this book, it was great.

Or at least I really liked it. You should maybe read this book. As much as I loved it I can only offer a selective recommendation. This book is not going to be everyone’s cup of tea. It has a lot of strong opinions, it wouldn’t agree with everyone.

There are two main things going on in the book. The first is plot, a love triangle between an artist, her husband, and her new young female lover. All three characters were well rounded and compelling.

Pete is terrible, and I hated him, but he’s the straight guy, I’m not supposed to like him. But I do understand him. Schuman uses Pete’s chapters to show how little he understands, how incredibly limited his world is. By the end I almost feel sorry for him — just a little bit. He’s still terrible, but he just doesn’t get it.

Kate’s journey, moving away from Peter, and towards Molly, creates the central personal drama of the story. Her character allows for exploration of identity, and how it isn’t a solid stable thing, but perpetually in flux. I definitely read her journey as being about bisexuality, and there aren’t enough of those story about people who aren’t young, and are women. Through the novel there a comfortable casual eroticism between women which I don’t remember coming across before, and really appreciated. The relationship between Kate and Molly is flawed, but believable.

Molly’s idealism and hopelessness are the gateway to the world around them. The other thing going on is the setting — it’s set in New York in the middle of gentrification and the AIDS crisis. Schulman was heavily involved in ACT UP, and her experiences as an activist influence the story and the perspective. At times it starts to feel like a satirical dystopia, but it’s always close enough to reality to be scary.

This is a very queer book, with queer characters, who interact with a queer community, and have queer ideas. That’s probably why I kinda loved it. The plot is solid, but the glimpse into this world is what makes it feel essential. It’s a document from our recent history, a part of a story that is still going on, that I’m still trying to understand.


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